When seat belts are a story

If there’s one fact that gets people riled up in the wake of a fatal car crash, it’s the one about whether the deceased were wearing seat belts.

“This is no where near appropriate or respectfull for the family or friends,” a commenter wrote the last time I wrote about the death of someone who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

Authorities in Minnesota just last week issued a report saying the state’s primary seat belt law (the one that allows police to stop you if you’re not wearing one) resulted in 68 fewer deaths and 320 fewer severe injuries from 2009 to 2011.

After most fatal accidents, police reveal whether someone was or wasn’t wearing a seat belt and it becomes a difficult issue to write about because it carries a certain connotation that one is responsible for one’s own death. And some people think the victims of accidents shouldn’t be used to make a point.

The issue comes up today because the Kansas State Patrol included this fact in a release about yesterday’s crash that killed five people on their way home to Minnesota:

The patrol’s report on the crash says all five of the family members killed in the accident weren’t wearing restraints. The patrol report also said only two of the injured, including the17-year-old driver, were wearing seatbelts.

The Associated Press headlines the story:

5 From Minn. Killed in Crash Didn’t Wear Seatbelts

In this case, the headline “Survivors of fatal crash weren’t wearing seatbelts” could also apply.

By the way, several days earlier, a highway crash killed a man. He was wearing a seatbelt, but that never made it into the headline.